I've written a fair bit about my process for developing support materials - which is something I've become good at over the years. I haven't really spent any time writing about some of the other, smaller initiatives around the Learning Portfolio. One of which is getting students to set their own learning goals.
It's ironic that an institution (who have their goals for students) wants students to be self-directed, yet everywhere in their classes have very little choice in the way that they can determine their own goals and achieve them. This self determination is left to their own time, and is in every sense, not a part of school. However, the institution is certainly looking at ways that students can determine, set and track their own goals - and to that end, with a consultation with Desire2Learn, developed a widget that sits on the homepage that students can click on the link, enter their information on a form which creates an artifact in their ePortfolio/Learning Portfolio. A small portion of the student population use the Learning Portfolio (about 5%-10% of our full time enrollment) but use is picking up. Use of the Learning Goals widget is also a large percent of that group - maybe making up 2% of our total population.
The idea with this widget is to get students thinking about their own goals and trying to tie those goals to their academic learning. I don't know if there's enough being done around this - and we're only in the beginning, but some thinking needs to be done about this for sure. We aren't tracking whether these goals are ever met, or even the content of these goals - in fact we only can make a guestimate based on how many times the title of the widget shows up in the Learning Portfolio object creation report.
I'd be interested in hearing about whether anyone's doing major ePortfolio/Capstone project work - trying to encapsulate a student's experience at University or College in that course/project - and ways that an ePortfolio might help that along. Sure, we know that portfolios are great for procedural/project based learning, especially when guided. I'm more interested in if this can be done institutionally. Really adding a great incentive to building this work.
Way back at the beginning of time, I worked in Language Studies with a professor, Gerry Dion. Gerry was (and is) a great guy, and frankly, about ten years ahead of his time. In my first semester working with Gerry, my job was to maintain computers in a small lab, and help students use the First Class communication system, which was a really good system to use for class collaboration and instructor flexibility. Gerry taught "French, in a Canadian Context" (course code was LL636, which is part of the minutia that I carry around in my head). Anyways, this course was a flipped class with course materials on a CD-Rom. The first six weeks were French language basics, the second six weeks were cultural research. Students grouped up, did research, and then posted to First Class their essays. Everyone in the class would read each other's essay. Then there was a multiple choice final exam that consisted of questions pulled from the essays.
I'm on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately, and well, I was thinking about this sort of activity, except within a modern LMS context. Here's how a similar exercise using the discussion forums in D2L's version 10.3 might work:
First, have students read each other's work. Typically these are submitted to the discussion forum, for posting - but a group dropbox (with the entire class enrolled in one group) might work as well. Second, have a forum for each essay, and students are to generate x number of questions (and potential answers) each, and post to the appropriate forums the questions. This part of the exercise ensures that they at least read some of the work submitted. Third, have students use the upvote feature (new in version 10.3) to vote up or down the question - voting up the questions means you could answer the question, voting down means you (as a student) couldn't answer it correctly. Students essentially identify easier questions on a fairly large scale. Fourth, to assess activity in the system you could use the reporting feature attached to discussions to export a list of activity to CSV, manipulate that CSV to be a grades import (aligned with previously created columns). Fifth, using the upvote data, select questions that did well, and did not do well and create a quiz out of those - you could even take it a step further and allow the system to randomly select questions (once imported into the Question Library) from each difficulty of question.
Going back to my history lesson at the top, Gerry was not an easy marker, but almost always did well on his student feedback - students learned from those sorts of exercises.
I feel like it's valuable to post my notes about conferences and events I attend - I hope you find them useful as well.
I attended and presented at the Ontario Ignite Regional Conference, which is a Desire2Learn conference intended to gather users of the system together and exchange information. It's a good chance to catch up with friends and to learn a whole bunch of stuff. Someone suggested it was like a mini-Fusion, which I think is a pretty apt comparison. These smaller conferences might even be better as you have less choice and are more likely to hit on some tips that are interesting to you. I presented about putting the Polling Widget into your Org Level or at a Course Level homepage, which I've posted on here elsewhere. After that, I attended other presentations. Here's a cliff's notes (or a synopsis for you non-Canadians).
University of Guelph, who are using the Competencies and Rubrics tool more than maybe other Universities (certainly mine). In this context the presentation outlined the process for Guelph's Applied Human Nutrition program who have external competencies from the College of Dietitians Ontario. The course(s) need to feed 147 competencies, which were previously tracked in Excel. Currently content and quizzes feed these assessments, needing to meet both the requirements to trigger the Competency. Competencies allow two options – all sub options or any of the sub options - which allows for some interesting options when assessing criteria. One has to be careful when wanting to assess any of the options to meet the competency. Outcomes are able to be assessed on individual criteria of rubrics. Quizzes are able to have outcomes tied to individual quiz questions.
University of Guelph has been working on Learning Outcomes for many years; in 2008 UDLE’s and GDLE’s (Undergraduate Degree Level Expectation and Graduate Degree Level Expectation). In 2012, new undergraduate learning outcomes developed for all (in some cases redeveloped). Guelph developed a curriculum mapping tool (CurricKit) since 2007. In 2012, Guelph engaged in an Analytics pilot with D2L.
Some best practices of curriculum development:
- Faculty driven
- Evidence based
- Discipline oriented
- Learning centred
Guelph's curriculum mapping survey asks faculty what they intend to assess with the course. They renamed Competencies to Outcomes on tabs within tools - which better aligns with how most people know this thing. Competencies at org level feed competencies at the program level then feed competencies at the department level in D2L. Courses with individual templates are not going to work with this structure – need programs to sit separately due to the cross disciplinary nature of courses at Guelph. I asked, Do you only associate learning outcomes at the course level? No, it’s actually at the template level, activities are at the course offering level - set up this way to facilitate visibility and to aggregate data to the template. One problem was how to validate course assessment as outcomes assessment? Does the course assessment really add up to an achievement with outcomes? Can we make the assumption with course based assessment = program based assessment? Literature suggests not, so how do we rectify?
Etexts can include digital media (eg. Video). I asked, Can licensed materials be disabled after x amount of time? Yes, controlled by date permissions in Content. Vision: “Any learner today should have the best in class utility and access to all of their course content – all in one place, all digital anytime and anywhere.” Files from your ipad will be added to that instance of Binder – not uploaded to the cloud version of Binder. Binder for Android is coming, as well as a web client. Discoverbinder.com – fusion or community.desire2learn.com will give you content to pull in.
DRM and Copyright controls in Binder
- Date and time restrictions are respected by Binder
- Instructors can turn off send to Binder feature as well
- Students are notified that content is expiring
Binder Apps: provide annotation and Dropbox and Skydrive integration, within ios you can shift attachments in Mail app to Binder (on that device). Binder allows annotation, exporting, tagging.
This one may be a bit snarky because I'm on holiday and a day past my fortieth birthday (and I don't suffer idiots well).
Well, isn't this interesting? A pair of old white dudes, write a scathing report based on ONE student's anecdotal recitation of what happened to them in their Master's work. Whoever wrote this media release, and indeed the "centre" behind this is a joke - how can you even begin to call this a report that "highlight(s) the weak academic standards, biased teaching, and nonsensical edu-babble found in this course. " First of all you're basing this on one student's memory of this course - there's nothing scientific about this survey, there's no report here - this doesn't pass the sniff test for journalism (for which the standards are awfully low) and it certainly doesn't pass the sniff test for academic research. Secondly, the two authors are very biased against current educational theories and practices. Of course, they're going to write a biased report, when the one author clearly outlines his common sense education platform, which includes standardized testing. Standardized testing is something that's been trotted out as a way to make sure everyone is receiving the same education - but people aren't the same, so why should education? I don't learn the same way you do. Might I remind you of another common sense revolution that did wonders for education and health care. Why should we listen to this?
I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, but I've only gotten my head above water about this in the last few days. Bear with me as semester start-itis hasn't really cleared my system and I'm definitely fighting off a cold with flu like symptoms.
I'm very lucky to work at an institution with some pretty good vision from the top down. I'm not glad handing anyone here, I honestly mean it. Patrick Deane, McMaster's President, has a vision, and put some institutional money behind enacting that vision. He's identified the learning portfolio as something that students can use to document their learning journey. Watch the YouTube video for his take.
Admittedly, I have a vested interest in this idea working out, because I'm front and centre with this initiative around what we call Learning Portfolios, and what most of you call ePortfolios. I've ran over 20 workshops on the tool in the last year and a half, have become the defacto technical face of the thing, and well, I spent my summer working on it so that I can support the widespread use of it by faculty and students this year.
The summer has been a blur of activity - I've mostly had a chance to tweet about some of the things I'm doing, but here's a quick rundown:
Figure out how to change the wording of ePortfolio in the D2L instance to Learning Portfolio
You'd think this was an easy thing - except that it's buried in the Language options of the D2L admin settings. To my dismay, it wasn't as easy as changing one thing and it propagating to the hundreds of instances of the word throughout the system - it was hundreds of entries. Think it took 4 hours to manually go through and adjust this. After the upgrade to version 10.2 I needed to redo some of this work as the upgrade process either created new language entries or something got overwritten.
Document how to use it
I've always believed in local documentation - I frankly hate using vendor documentation because it's never specific enough to your particular install, nor does it illustrate why you would use it. I stayed away from the why, because that was for other people (students, namely) to decide. I did however create this repository of PDFs. 20 PDFs, articulating and well, showing students and faculty how to use the damn thing. There's about 10 more that I want to do - these having to do with social media connections. While some of this stuff is documented in the vendor documentation, with us changing the name of the tool to something else, there is a high likelihood of confusion had we not done this. This whole thing took months of work, and isn't close to being done. Also, I think we all recognize that students generally don't use these systems because they aren't as slick as Pinterest, or Facebook, or Tumblr. The ePortfolio tool is definitely not as slick as Tumblr, nor as easily customizable. So anything to get the technical details out of the way and into student hands is a desirable thing.
To that end I wrote scripts for twelve videos - eight of them are on YouTube. These were talked about in another post so I won't go into much detail other than many people have really dug them. I think we'll be doing more of these for not only the Learning Portfolio but also for the LMS. With very little promotion, one video has 100 hits and the channel has 15 subscriptions, so it's fair to say that people are interested in this type of support. More of these will have to be made.
Bend it to make it do what you want
One of the institutional goals is to help students take ownership of their learning and make explicit learning goals for themselves. With self-directed goals, many of them are not achievable in four years (or five, or fifteen even). We looked at some ways that might make sense for learners to create and self select their own goals. Ultimately, with some help from Desire2Learn, we settled on a form accessible via a widget that lives on the homepage of the LMS. That form allows the student to fill out a learning goal, making it explicit, do some thinking about it, and track it throughout your time at McMaster. So, we have a piece that does that in conjunction with the Learning Portfolio. I hope that Desire2Learn are thinking about adding this sort of functionality into the ePortfolio tool, because that gives users a giant reason why the ePortfolio tool is better than a blog, Tumblr or any other service in helping you make those connections.
Push out a template for students to use
Seeing as the institution wants to help students - what is the best way to help? There's no one best way I'm sure, but one idea is that we push out a template to any student who registered in a course between Fall 2012 and Fall 2013. Our System Administrator looked at using the API to accomplish a push, however, there wasn't enough time to test the script properly, so we are manually doing this. I have a CSV extract of all 30,000+ students who had the student role in at least a course over the last calendar year. I chop that down to 1000 student segments, enroll those students in a course, then push the template from my account into those student's Learning Portfolio. Unenroll the students, after making course active due to a bug in D2L's system (you can't unenroll a person from a course while the course is inactive), and repeat the process.
I ramped up the numbers to 1000 (I started at 200, moved to 600, then 800, then a 1000), and that seems to be the best number to hold at. When I approached some of the ePortfolio team over the summer about our plans, they were concerned about a push to 20,000. I hope they work on the scalability of the tool going forward. Once I got into a rhythm, and used the 1000 enrollment levels, I knocked off 10,000 fairly quickly.
The process to install a polling widget on your institution's homepage is fairly straight forward. I tend to prefer self-hosting solutions, and open source at that. Thankfully in my job we have that luxury. If you're attempting this with no knowledge of PHP or servers, you might have some issues. I'll try to explain as best as possible, but comment if you get lost in the process, and I'll be happy to clarify what I can.
The first step is to find a polling software solution; basically any polling software that creates an html/php page can be embedded. It's preferred that the page lives behind HTTPS, or secure HTTP connection - so if you're self-hosting the polling solution as we are, you should put it behind the extra security. Why? Well, Internet Explorer doesn't handle mixed secure and insecure solutions and will give the end user a pop up with some unclear language that in the end, only adds more hurdles for the user to answer the poll. In fact, Firefox now has similar behaviour (with an even less apparent notification that needs intervention before fixing).
We're using this polling software: http://codefuture.co.uk/projects/cf_polling/ which serves our purposes quite nicely. It's doesn't allow for question types other than multiple choice, so if you need that functionality, you'll have to choose something else. For our polls, we've worked the questions so that they fit this mold. The extra bonus of this one is that it stores all the data in a flat file - not in a database. So you only have one thing to maintain.
Within the PHP code, you can edit the options - the PHP file is well commented and shouldn't give you any issues. One trick I've run into is that the D2L widget editor doesn't refresh the data well - so if you make an error in the PHP, you should create a new file to upload rather than trying to overwrite, I couldn't figure out why it wasn't letting me reset the data collected (I suspect that the flat file is generated using the name of the PHP file, so when you update the PHP, it won't force a reset of the data captured. Of course, why it wouldn't overwrite the typo in the one answer, I'm not sure).
Another downside, and it's a big one if you want to use these numbers as more than a general indicator - is that this solution does not track users. So, if you do choose this route, be aware that this poll sets a cookie on the computer that answers the poll, not necessarily attached to the user who answered the poll - so the same person could answer the poll multiple times. We don't particularly care about that, only because we're using it for a general sense of how the community feels on these issues. With large enough data, even with some mischevious numbers, we'd be OK.
You'll need some basic CSS skills as well to edit how the page will look - there's three options by default - but I've trimmed out the script to not include the extra options we aren't using. I've rewritten the CSS to more accurately reflect the branding and colour scheme that we use at my institution.
I've included the text of the script listed above for an example of what we run and how we customize it. If you can't see it, visit the text on pastebin.
// include the cf polling class file
// your poll question
$poll_question ='How well did the Discussion tool stimulate a conversation that improved understanding of the course material?';
// In this variable you can enter the answers (voting options),
// which are selectable by the visitors.
// Each vote option gets an own variable. Example
$answers = 'did not use';
$answers = 'a little bit';
$answers = 'a lot';
$answers = 'was crucial';
// Make new poll
$new_poll = new cf_poll($poll_question,$answers);
// if you are not using one_vote there is no need to use this.
// $new_poll -> setCookieOff(); //(new 0.93)
// One vote per ip address (and cookies if not off)
$new_poll -> one_vote();
// Number of days to run the poll for
$new_poll -> poll_for(28);// end in 28 days
// $new_poll -> endPollOn(02,03,2010);// (D,M,Y) the date to end the poll on (new 0.92)
// Set the Poll container id (used for css)
$new_poll -> css_id('cfpoll2');
// chack to see if a vote has been cast
$new_poll -> new_vote($_POST);
// echo/print poll to page
echo $new_poll -> poll_html($_GET);
So that's the backend of things. We currently manually set up a polling question, and will rotate through six different questions (which means six different unique PHP scripts) in a semester. Every three weeks, we prepare a new script page by copying the previous one and editing the end date, questions and answers, and upload it to the server.
Now getting it into a widget in a course (or at the organization level) is dead simple. Create a new widget, edit that widget and get to the HTML code view for the content of that new widget. Once there, put in this code:
<p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="LOCATION OF YOUR FILE HERE" height="340" width="280" scrolling="no"></iframe></p>
Of course, you'll substitute wherever the location of the PHP script you're using is located where I've written "LOCATION OF YOUR FILE HERE". Click Save to save the widget. You won't be able to preview this widget, so you'll have to have a bit of faith that your code (and my code) is correct. Add the widget to your homepage, and you're home for dinner.
Our experience with this is pretty surprising. The first time we ran the polls there was 36 responses in 10 minutes (during exams), 1450 in 24 hours and 2655 after one week. After three weeks the final tally was 3598. Now remember, that's votes, not individuals. Even so, consider that each student might only vote as an average of 1.4 times, which might skew the numbers somewhat, even so that's pretty representational (and corresponds with our internal numbers for the tool we surveyed about).
Here's what the Poll looks like:
What do we hope to find with this? Well, personally I wanted to see how the Analytics tool use numbers would compare with users self-reporting. Does use of the tool make for an impression of using the tool? Are students even aware of the different tools in D2L?
So as part of our summer initiatives, I had the brilliant idea to replicate something that we used to do at another institution where I had worked before: video tutorials for the LMS. I know full well that this may be a futile experience. There's no possible way to keep up however many videos we do produce, there's no way to put out the super high quality work I feel is required because we just can't afford that kind of production time. However, I just couldn't figure out the quickest way to make sure there's no technical reason for this initiative to fail other than to crank out several videos, and post them to YouTube so that 20,000 students have some sort of access to information that they can use.
For those of you who haven't done some sort of screen capture demonstration, here's what I do. It may not make sense for you, or it may be downright wrong. It works for me - feel free to comment if you have ways that I can improve.
Write the script.
The script is really the most important thing. It's what makes you sound professional - you can't just wing this (unless you're brilliant). Write the script for what you're going to say, then record it into your computer. Listen to it. Does it make sense? Good. Is it too long? Do you stumble over phrases? Fix them. Do this months in advance. About two weeks before you actually record, figure out if you can read/recite the script while doing something else. The something else can be typing on the computer, watching a movie... almost anything (I wouldn't suggest brushing your teeth or having a meal). Can you get through without major issues? Good. It's good enough to say out loud. Rewrite if you need to. Remember to say why anyone would want to do whatever it is you're demonstrating. A script, even if it's simple, will help guide you when you actually do the video. If you think you can skip this step, go ahead. However, I used to feel this way too, and would skip the script - until I was forced to work with one and it made the actual recording process simple.
Know how to do whatever you're demonstrating.
Really, this is insulting, but it's amazing how many videos I've seen stumble around what they were trying to show. Admittedly, I'm not 100% perfect, I have to often align my mouse up with the things I'm clicking (as my attentions on reading the script). If you happen to say "uhhh, how do I do that again?" stop recording, shut off whatever software you have running and practice the steps. Then practice them again. Make sure you know them inside and out. Do them instinctually.
Decide on what you're going to record with.
The simplest setup for the best quality is Camtasia. I may be biased because I like the tool a lot, but it's not open source. I've used a ton of tools that do screen capture, but I know I'll need the ability to fix audio in post, and edit video. You may like CamStudio, which is pretty damn good - in fact any of the webcasts I did for my early online courses (in 2007/8) used that software. Of course, there's no post editing options. EZVid also has a similar functions to Camtasia, so I'm interested to try things out.
Nobody wants to see you.
The caveat here is that, nobody wants to see me; you however may look like George Clooney and should be seen. Honestly, people are not looking for a video introduction, so don't waste time making one. Get to the point. I used to say that there's a place for a picture-in-picture talking head. Now? I'm not so sure. In certain Distance Education classes it maybe makes some sense, however, the time it takes to do a decent talking head, mix the audio so it matches, and add in the pressure of having to do whatever it is you're demonstrating in one take, is well, a lot. Cut the extraneous stuff out. Make your video simple and to the point.
Get it done.
I like to record using Camtasia, with a USB Snowball microphone. It's not a wonderful super duper mic, but it is a good USB microphone at a decent price point. I place the microphone as if I were to speak into it, and then move it to the right of my mouth, so I'm not speaking directly into the mic. It's a cheap trick to reduce smacking lips, pops and other annoying audio things. You can also make a DIY windscreen if it suits your needs to MacGuyver something. I test audio, and then hit record. Inevitably the first take is usually the one with the most energy, and usually also useless. Listen to it before moving on. Be critical of your performance. Slow down.
One other thing I like to do is take a bit of a break while recording, not like a 2o minute break but 15 seconds or so - don't move the mouse, don't do anything in fact. Let your mind reset. Get a bit of a breather and then go on. You can always easily cut out segments of no movement and no audio, as long as you don't move the mouse no one will be the wiser. Make sure your voice is enthusiastic. As soon as you can't convince yourself this is important or fun, stop for the day. Go do something else.
Did you go off script? Chances are you did. Make notes where you left the script (you'll need to transcribe it for captioning if you care about accessibility). YouTube's captioning ability is pretty amazing.
If you have more energy, go again. You'll probably find your rhythm. Keep mining that feeling because it is fleeting and you will find it beneficial to make up the time you lost earlier (either in setup, or some other place).
No, not with a sharp instrument, but be brutal with your performance. Find three seconds of silence and no movement on screen? Cut it. Find an awkward phrase that can be done without? Cut it. Students, your audience, don't want to muddle through it. Is the instruction clear? No? Cut it (and in this case, do a voice over). Tighten up the overall rhythm of the video. Do your best to make it flow. Editing yourself will be painful, listening to yourself, is well up there with many uncomfortable things. I think it helps to imagine it's someone else, but maybe that is delusional.
Small things are important.
Taking the time to get all the small things right is important. They may not mean much individually, but every removal of potential distractions from the content will help your learners. That means every "um" you remove, every breath that you can hear, every awkward pause, whenever you reduce those, you're making a better product. I personally, like to have a 15 to 30 second introduction - which is simply a couple of pages that I build in Photoshop (you could use Gimp or Paint Shop Pro). Those pages have some sort of identifier, and the topic being covered. I also add a 30 second to a minute bumper at the end with my institution's logo on it. If I have time I'll craft something quick using FruityLoops and Audacity to give the beginning some pep in the audio department. A little four note introduction can help make things seem uplifting, bouncy and set the tone for the rest of the video.
Once the video editing is done really you're left with tying all the loose ends. Captioning is a big thing, and basically I listen and re-listen and type out the words I actually say. Make sure you export as large a file as possible - in MP4 format with the H.264 codec as a best practice. Why MP4 and that particular codec? Well, MP4 has become a universal file format and has better compression than MPG/MPEG and has none of the compatibility issues of QuickTime or AVI. That particular codec is also widely used and will be very forgiving. If you're uploading to YouTube or Vimeo, both sites will take files in those formats encoded in with H.264
That's it. After the hours it takes to capture and edit, your two minute video will be seen by, well, however many people see it. If you get a year out of it until the next upgrade, you'll be in good shape.
So I went to Fusion (Desire2Learn's conference around their products and tools), presented a fairly well received workshop on how to embed an RSS feed into a widget or content page (thanks again to Cogdog aka Alan Levine, Barry Dahl and The Clever Sheep aka Rodd Lucier, for having some part in my ability to do that - perhaps even unbeknownst to them). I also presented how my institution added a Polling widget to our Org level homepage at the Unconference (thanks to Kyle Mackie and his band of very merry helpers in setting that up).
Most of all I stressed about travelling for the first time without my wife since, well, we got married (in 1995). Usually I fill a role in travel, that of planner, navigator, organizer - but she's the fun and my social mediator. So frankly, I was worried that I would get to Boston, and well, not know what to do, or be the wallflower that I usually am. Thankfully, after arriving early enough on Sunday, getting oriented to the city (a bit) I fell into my usual travel routine and sort of discovered that I still know how to interact on my own. This year's Unconference, my first, was well, pretty much what I expected. I didn't expect weirdness galore - however there was enough of that, but it was the perfect start to my experience at a conference. I got into a pretty good discussion of the why's and workarounds and issues we've had with the Desire2Learn Learning Platform with Andy Freed and Dave Long.
I met a whole bunch of people I follow on Twitter at the Unconference - further proving that Twitter is my most important network of connections. Of course, I finally got a change to meet Barry Dahl in person, and of course, we hit it off. I have to admit, I was a bit scared to meet people in person. I always worry that real life is different than online, and well it may just be... well, awkward. I have to say that Barry is the same person online as he is in my real time interactions with him. Meeting the people I've interacted with online was the best thing that happened during the conference.
I arrived at the conference hotel proper, signed in and was assigned to the "Red Socks" team (others were the "Bobby Orrs", the "Larry Birds", etc). The Twitter hashtag for the Red Socks was #RS, not #BS as I wanted to put in a bunch.... Ran into our D2L Account Manager, Lee, who's honestly one of the best account managers I've known. Had a good chat with him, and moved on to talking to the ePortfolio team about all the different ways we want to employ ePortfolio at my institution. Got a really, really good sense of where the product is going, and if it works as easily as it should, the tool should be really, really beneficial to students.
I attended an introductory session on Analytics (now rebranded Insights), because I'm still a bit boggled by the tool, how it does great reports at the course level, but the interesting stuff for me anyways, is at the organizational level, and often I find that the damn tool doesn't run. I don't know if that's me, not really understanding the tool, or the tool not working. Either way, this session didn't really help, as it was truly an overview.
Lunch rolled around with an OK keynote by Michael Horn, talking about how education is ripe for disruption (like the Auto industry, Music industry or other industries). I guess the analogy doesn't work in Canada where there's a level of government involvement in the "competition" between institutions and how education is not a product to be purchased like music or automobiles. Also the charts he showed made no sense to me and communicated even less. John Baker had some suits from other corporations talk with him about education - which I guess was fine. Frankly, I am not a fan of suits, and while I'm sure I could've gleaned something from the discussion, all I kept thinking was "these guys are figuring out ways to sell me some product I don't need".
Checked out the new Document Templates in a session as well, which was interesting but we won't have the time post upgrade to do anything with them. Perhaps down the road, but knowing how things work, it's unlikely we'll be able to find the time to do anything interesting with them.
Ended the day in a session with Jason Thompson from Guelph about their in-house PEAR tool, which stands for Peer Assessment and Review, which talks with D2L through the API. Probably the most interesting thing I learned today, which was mostly about the peer review process and something that I think will be important as a long-term goal with McMaster and it's Learning Portfolio project.
In the evening we went bowling and played pool. I'm more of a people watcher but got to hang out with my new friends from Guelph and some old friends from Mohawk College, was good overall but slightly overwhelming. Walking back to the hotel was probably the most interesting thing I did, in the process went by the oldest firehall in Boston. The walk back to the Newbury Guest House was winding as I took an unexpected detour, but it all ended up fine. Part of the fun being in a different city is those weird explorations down roads unexpected. This was a good one.
Up early, to the conference early.. and well nerve wracked from the anticipation of presenting. I'm never calm about presenting no matter how familiar I am with the subject matter - I suspect that comes from my constant analysis of "what could go wrong?". More on that later.
The sessions started really early - or maybe it was just me. Of course, I arrive and grab some stuff to eat, start to pour a coffee, and some people exiting the main hall pointed out that I was on the big screen, to which I responded to with a truly confused "huh?". What a way to make you not hungry, having my mug up on screen twenty feet tall. My wife did say take pictures of yourself in Boston, so I did...
Was only a brief moment of celebrity. Note to self, hide better when Barry has a camera. Another note, compose your shots indoors and check to see if they work. As for the sessions on day two:
I started with the Heutagogy session which was interesting - talked a lot about self directed learning. I think one of the things that get in the way with Learning Management Systems in general is that there's no mechanisms for students to determine pacing. This is something that I've come up against a fair bit - especially in MOOCs - where you would think that students being able to determine their own pacing might be a good thing. I wonder if something like this could be structured using the Checklist tool, students could opt-in to a voluntary "section" to graduate with - and then use restrictions to manage different dropboxes and quizzes? This session was an interesting starter to the day.
The next session I attended was Ohio State's expanding the LMS session that delved into some of the issues of using third-party (mostly publisher) platforms integrated with the LMS. They did note that Pearson and McGraw Hill integrations were the most technically challenging which makes sense when those publishers have developed their own environments. While my institution isn't thinking about this sort of stuff yet, it might get there sooner than later. It was interesting to hear and unfortunately, I couldn't attend the follow-up session which was more technical in nature.
I then attended the ePortfolio lightning round - which may have been the best thing on Tuesday. There was a ton of ways that ePortfolio that is being used, but all of them are using the ePortfolio tool to be a reflective tool. Many find that they scaffold reflective practice at the first with forms to define "how to reflect" and then as the course develops, they tend to bring in less structured reflections. I think this is really valuable for our use in courses - in fact it's some information that I've passed on to a couple instructors in discussions about how they can use the Learning Portfolio (which we've called it) at McMaster.
Lunch was next. Delicious. I have to say, the food was excellent throughout the conference. The keynote was from Karen Cantor, and to be honest it didn't resonate at all because I was presenting right after lunch. Had some interesting conversations with my friends at Mohawk College again - not about work but about life in general.
I did my workshop right after lunch on RSS Feeds using Feed2JS and a bunch of other open source tools. I hit the wifi cutoff switch on my laptop mid demonstration and that lead me to switch to the house laptop for the finish. Panic was coursing through my veins, but I think I held it together pretty well.
After I finished it was a blur again, but I rounded out the day with the Web 2.0 tools "Free and Funky" session. There were a ton of tools listed but there were three that were new to me: Quizlet, Quietube and Twine. Out of all these tools, I should maybe document using some of these for our faculty - just to broaden their horizons as to what can be in content.
At the close of day, we had a police escort to the JFK Library/Museum, which was an awesome building. I ended up seeing 5% of it because, well, I was chatting with a bunch of people. There was more drinking, eating, some dancing (not by me) and after an ill advised stop at another bar, it was time for sleep.
The sessions everyday seem to start earlier (or maybe bedtime is later)? After a quick breakfast and only one incident of me on screen, I headed off to the sessions.
The first session I attended was a bit out of my wheelhouse, but it was on how ePortfolio was being delivered at the K-12 level. One of the best quotes I got from this session was "Course design is like playing chess". Indeed it is, there was a lot of talk about nuts and bolts - one interesting concept was that rubrics being embedded with forms that are used as Exit Cards for each week. I wondered where the rubric information goes - back to the student obviously, but can it be connected to a dropbox?
The second was a session on Rubric and Competencies best practices - incredibly useful in my context as not a lot of faculty use Rubrics or Competencies - and I think we'll need a Rubrics workshop and a Competencies workshop. In fact I hope that the language around the tool changes - and Competencies shift to Learning Objectives. The nice thing about this session was the takeaway in that we got some pre-built rubrics. I think we'll be designing some basic rubrics (by taking the common assessment methods like essays, proposals and common critera like critical thinking, spelling, structure) and distributing through the org level of the Learning Environment.
I attended the Respondus LockDown Browser session, which was an interesting thing to think about. I know that issues of academic integrity (which is in and of itself a weird buzzword) in blended and online delivered courses are something that my institution might have to think about moving forward as they look at more blended learning projects. I don't know that it was immediately valuable, but we'll see if there's something we can work with going forward. I'm always looking for things that are easy to integrate with the LMS, and this is one thing. I'm not particularly happy with the idea that it's built off of Internet Explorer, because that browser frankly blows, but I understand their logic.
Day three's lunch was again, delicious, but distinctly messy. I escaped unscathed, but man, I could imagine dropping pulled pork or baked beans on my shirt no problem... Alec Couros delivered the closing keynote, and even though I've seen most of the elements that Alec ran through - I really enjoyed seeing the whole thing put into context. He had a well deserved standing ovation. His keynote was entertaining and informative. A great way to close the conference.
EXCEPT there's one more session - the last session was incredibly useful and unfortunately poorly attended. The last session was all about optimizing images for the web to make it more mobile friendly - I learned a ton from it. Mostly about the amazing tool Tiny PNG and the optimization tricks for JPG files for Retina Displays (double the pixel size, and use the media queries to shrink) to allow for higher pixel density. Also, I've always been pretty staunch about JPG optimization being at the higher level (80% or higher) because of the lossy compression that happens. The presenters were saving images at 40% and getting comparable quality for great filesize improvements. While that kind of nerditry is not necessarily important for anyone outside of developers, it is important for almost everyone who is putting a picture in a course, because that is going to be seen on a mobile device.
Both the hooks and Brookfield readings looked at how critical reflection changes teaching and learning practices. I don't know if anything I've read this past week changes much for me - I have always been hypercritical of my own work (sometimes to my own detriment). I recognize that being hypercritical and reflecting critically are two different things though.
If we look at Friere's work, and his dialogue between objectivity and subjectivity (within the first chapter in Pedagogy of the Oppressed) - as teachers we should strive for that middle ground. I think the only vehicle that gets us into that middle ground is the ability to reflect and think about other perspectives. The subjectivity of experience and the objectivity of best practices make us the best we can be. I have often played devil's advocate, mainly in an attempt to think about potential arguments against my position. In essence this is negotiating that middle ground between objectivity and subjectivity. The mere act of thinking about how one could do something better is critical (unless of course you're so full of hubris that you think you couldn't do it better).
This week we read chapter 13 in bell hooks "Teaching to Transgress" and chapter 8 in Brookfield's "Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher".
There wasn't a ton of new ideas in hooks chapter, not for me anyways. I was always drawn to passion. That fire, the heat of someone else's excitement... always a great moment to engage in. hooks is entirely correct in that passion in the classroom (for a subject) is rarely recognized, and almost never sanctioned. Of course they want to have engaged students, but don't want to loosen the morals that were set in stone at the educational institution's formation some hundred years ago. Perhaps that's why I feel an affinity for online spaces - where the tradition is a little less formal, and a little more conversational.
The portion of the chapter that dealt with the eros of teaching strikes me as something that could be dug into far further - does the power structure between teacher and student make the relationship between the two manipulative in either direction?
Brookfield's chapter dealt more with listening - it seems like good listening and facilitation skills can help people learn and discover their own way.